World War II hero returns home after 73 years - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

World War II hero returns home after 73 years

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A World War II hero is finally laid to rest at his Iowa hometown after 73 years. 

Sgt. Byron Nelson was a WWII airman who was killed after being shot down on a bombing mission over Italy. Nelson was aboard a B-24G bomber, when his plane was gunned down by the Germans in 1944. His unit crashed near Fognano, Italy after Nelson's aircraft and two others became separated from the main formation due to dense clouds. Nelson was officially declared deceased, but his remains were never recovered. 

For 73 years, the family has been trying to understand their past. Bringing Byron home was a big part of their story. 

 Nelson's great niece Laura Hansmeier had been longing to piece together her family's history.

"He was buried in Florence, at the American cemetery there and he was known as X190 untill about 2015 when the process actually started of identifying him," said Hansmeier. 

When the Missing in Accounting Agency reached out to the family in 2015, they were overwhelmed at the thought of returning Nelson to his hometown of Primghar, Iowa. 

Hansmeier says the agency was able to use advanced DNA technology to confirm the remains in Italy were his. After two years, the family was finally able to lay their war hero to rest during the 4th of July holiday weekend in Primghar.  

 "It was just amazing to see that after all this time, he wasn't forgotten that so many people came to support him and welcome him home," said Hansmeier.  "It was more than I ever expected. You know, he's been missing for 73 years, he's coming home. We know he's having a military burial, but the amount of people that showed up. Primghar is not a very big community and the amount of people that were out at that cemetery."

Hansmeier says she was overwhelmed at the number of people who came to pay their respects. All who came, shared a piece of her great uncle, from anecdotes, to letters he wrote back to his family before he was killed at war. All stories, Hansmeier says she didn't know about her great uncle just a few days ago. 

"On it being the fourth of July weekend, I mean it just really brought home what it means to live in this great country, to remember the people that have gone before us defending our freedom," said Hansmeier. 

Hansmeier says the story of her great uncle is one that will continue to be told through generations. He seven-year-old daughter even wrote her great-great uncle a letter thanking him for his service, which she left with him at the ceremony. 

"People are sharing his story," said Hansmeier. "I mean it's been 73 years so it's nice to finally have his story being shared and people taking an interest in what he did 73 years ago serving our country."

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